Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Ziti

When I blogged about our trip to upstate New York and dining at Roberto's in Jamestown, I wrote that I just had to make my own version of baked ziti, a classic Italian American dish. I actually did a few days later, and it turned out delicious, although on a whim I bought mozzarella in a rolled up sheet. It didn't look good even though it tasted good. The picture I took looked awful; the shot below is with shredded cheese, definitely the way to go. Feel free to add grated parmesan but for heaven's sake get freshly grated cheese or grate it yourself.

I wanted the ziti to be an easy dish for anyone to make, using easy ingredients for a quick dinner. It's not a 30 minute meal, but it's not taxing either. I used Trader Joe's organic marinara, but you can use your favorite bottled sauce, of course. I wanted the richness of mascarpone (kind of an Italian cream cheese) but feel free to use ricotta. On my second try just this week I saw a carton of Kefir Cheese Lebne, a type of spreadable yogurt. I tried it and really liked it. I found the Lebne at S-Mart Foods right here in Stockton. Baked ziti is not lasagna, and I feel the meat (sausage) should be treated like a condiment and not overload
the dish. But it's your dish; add more if you like.

1 lb package ziti
12 oz sweet Italian sausage
8 oz sliced cremini or button mushrooms
1 large medium dice shallot
1 bottle marinara of your choice
1/2 cup mascarpone
2 pinches salt if needed.
16 oz shredded mozzarella

Bring lots of water to a boil along with a tablespoon of salt. Add ziti and cook until barely al dente. Meanwhile, take sausage out of casings, crumble and cook in saute pan over medium heat. Remove sausage and add sliced mushrooms and diced shallot.
Cook until mushrooms are tender and most of liquid is cooked off. Add sausage back into pan along with marinara and mascarpone. Mix well and let simmer gently to thicken your sauce. Drain ziti and mix with sausage mixture along with half of the mozzarella. Pour into an approximately 10x15 baking dish. Spread the rest of the cheese on the top and bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then place under broiler for up to 5 min to caramelize the cheese and make the top noodles a little crunchy. Serves at least 6.

Restaurant Review: the day after Christmas Paul and I wanted to get out of town, not far, just to Napa. I wanted to try Go
in St. Helena, just a bit up the road. As the name implies they serve fish and the inside of the restaurant looks kind of like a fish market, with lots of white tile. There's lots of unusual art too, strange really, which is right up my alley (check out their logo). I ordered the Hog Island Manila Clams; the little suckers were only about 1/2 inch long and about 30 or 40 in the bowl.
Man were they good, with white wine, butter, lots o' garlic and linquini. Paul, on the other hand, ordered fish and chips. Who does that? I mean order f&c in the Napa Valley? Anyway, he was displeased but didn't send them back. Teaching moment: when you get a dish that isn't prepared properly, SEND IT BACK. Explain why you don't like it (don't just say it sucks). And don't just pout and pay and never go back. Your provider deserves a chance to make it right and you deserve a good meal. Now, if you go to Sid's Grease Pit sending it back might not help. But you get my drift. My recommendation is to eat at Go Fish; you may love it.

Please leave me a comment and let me know if you try The Ziti.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Some Tidbits For You

Paul and I were invited to the Blaine's for Christmas dinner and when I asked what to bring, Gloria suggested strawberry pretzel jello salad. I immediately balked for two reasons: I've had it a bazillion times and I don't know where the recipe is. The first time I ever had it was at a church lady jello salad fiesta at the Catholic church in Manteca many years ago. Loved it.

Even farther back is Grandma Brown's bodacious Cranberry Jello Mold. I swear she served it at every family gathering and we all fell on it like a pack of wolves. She used her Tupperware ring mold to create a tres chic presentation. Regardless of not knowing where the recipe was I suggested cranberry jello and got the go-sign. I thought I had inherited the ring mold but couldn't find it - probably chucked it as plastics get sticky after 30 years or so. I had found a recipe in the newspaper which called for chopped celery (suspicious) and crushed pineapple (maybe okay) and mayonnaise (ugh) on the side!!!!! I called my mother and she knew the recipe. Man is it simple. Served it in a pretty glass bowl and then ordered a Jel-Ring Mold from Tupperware and it came today. I want to mold something.

Cranberry Jello Mold

One 6 oz package cherry jello
2 cups boiling water
One 8 oz carton sour cream
1 can jellied whole cranberries

Pour boiling water over jello in heat-safe bowl. Stir to dissolve completely. Let cool a little. Whisk in sour cream. Break up jellied cranberries and mix well into jello. Let cool somewhat before pouring into bowl or mold. Follow directions that came with your mold. If you use a mold, invert onto a chilled serving plate.

I was a little nervous about serving this but it came out good and got good reviews. Grandma B. was a fabulous candy and pie maker. I just wish I had been interested in learning from her back then; alas, I was only interested in eating her productions.

On Christmas morning I had my mother and a couple of friends over for brunch and decided to make a crustless quiche, among other treats. I had made it once before, making it gluten-free and drop-kicking the usual blah blah blah swiss cheese. I'm partial to pepper jack cheese, as I like a little heat. This is pretty simple; I used a 9 inch pie plate for baking and used a combination of heavy cream and the 2% milk I always keep on hand. Couldn't see any point in buying whole milk for just one cup. If you want you can try using lower fat milk but I haven't tried it and so can't recommend it. It is a special occasion dish so enjoy yourself!

Crustless Pepper Jack Quiche

1 cup chopped onions
1 cup diced ham from the deli (1/4 lb)
1 Tb unsalted butter
8 oz shredded pepper jack cheese
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup 2% milk
(or 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup whole milk)

Preheat oven to 425, rack in middle of oven.
Butter pie plate.
Cook onions and ham in butter over medium high heat until golden, about 5 minutes.
Spread in dish, evenly distribute cheese over top.
Whisk together eggs, cream, milk and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and pour over cheese.
Bake until top is golden and custard is set with slight wobble, up to 30 minutes. Start checking by 20 minutes or so.
Cool a little. Serve by spooning it out. Serves 6 easily.

Really rich and good. Good leftover too, just warm it up a little.
Please comment me and let me know if you try these out!